By Isabelle Ravanas, Editor-in-Chief
CPS officials announced the first reported case of the Omicron variant in the City of Chicago and state of Illinois on Wednesday.
The Omicron variant was reported to the WHO on Nov. 24, though it is expected the mutation was evident throughout South Africa and Botswana earlier. The first case of Omicron in the United States was identified on Dec. 1 in California and slowly spread throughout the country (with Chicago’s first detected case on Tuesday, Dec. 7). As of Wednesday’s announcement, the US had slightly over 40 reported cases of the new mutation.
Little is known about Omicron’s effects, but it is suspected that it is more transmissible, yet less detrimental, than the infamous Delta variant that swept the world this summer. Speaking with CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated, “thus far (though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it), […] it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to [the Omicron variant]”.
Wednesday’s announcement comes amidst a rift between CPS and the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) regarding the recent COVID-related death of jonL Bush, a fully-vaccinated classroom assistant at Carnegie Elementary School in the neighborhood of Woodlawn. The CTU and Lori Lightfoot have since engaged in a sparring match over social media and through press conferences. CTU officials blame CPS and the mayor for not establishing enough safety measures in schools to prevent situations like Bush’s death. Lightfoot responded with: “frankly, it’s a little distressing that when somebody has died, that they’re using that as an opportunity to make and score political points”.
Bush’s death coincides with a time when 113 people at Carnegie, a school that serves only around 500 students, were in quarantine for exposure to or infection by COVID. According to CPS data, as of 5 p.m. on Thursday, 339 adults and 10,000 students were in isolation throughout the school district; overall, there have been 1,156 adult cases and 3,899 student cases of COVID since the start of the 2021-22 school year.
At Payton alone, there have been a dozen reported cases of COVID over the same period, the newest having been reported on Thursday. Though masks are mandated, hand sanitizer is plentiful, social distancing is encouraged, and ventilators are omnipresent, many still worry. Naeshya Prabakar 23′ stated that they are “worried because of how many cases have been reported [at school]” and thinks that Payton doesn’t “take COVID as seriously as we should.” With the winter and holiday season up ahead, family gatherings and lunches in the lunchroom coupled with Omicron foreshadow a spike in cases in schools across the country.